Before practicing headstand, here are 4 key asanas my students and I have been working on to open and strengthen our shoulders. Many other elements come into play before lifting-off onto your head, this week focused on creating length in the triceps, rotator cuffs, under-arms and upper torso.
Posture A: Gomukasana creates balance and builds greater range of motion in the upper arms and shoulders. Focus on the top elbow pointing up, and bottom elbow pointing down while keeping both sides of the chest and lungs equal. Caution: place the bottom arm in a pain-free zone to avoid stressing the rotator cuff. 5 deep breaths on each side.
Posture B: Garudasana is a powerful posture where we can strengthen the arms and upper back while releasing tension in the neck and shoulders. Focus on widening your collar bones, releasing the shoulders down, pressing your forearms together, and bringing the elbows up. Note: be free and light as bird, let Garudasana bring space in the shoulders and upper back. 5 deep breaths on each side.
Posture C: Take ‘Table Top’ and place your elbows down, slightly forward of you hands. As you place the forehead down on the mat, join the hands and bring the thumbs to touch the base of cervical spine. Walk the elbows forward or place each elbow on a block for greater intensity. In Uttana Shishosanna, focus on lengthening the elbows forward and keeping the hips back. Caution: let the heart open, but keep the lower back long (the back should feel as wide and as the front side of the torso). 5-10 breaths.
Posture D: Ardha Pincha Mayurasana will strengthen the arms and core muscles as well as stretching the under-arms, the torso, and the back. Focus: search for the sensation of pulling your lower arms forward on the mat and lengthening the shoulders away from the elbows. Keep your back long and well supported by the core muscles while elongating the back of the legs. Note: Elbows should be shoulder-width apart to feel an inward rotation of the triceps while keeping space between the shoulders as we would in ‘Downward Facing Dog’. Distribute the weight evenly among the elbows, forearms and wrists + root the inner wrists. As Ardha Pincha Mayurasana feels more and more comfortable, walk your feet towards your head feeling greater length in the back and shoulders. Relax your head and neck muscles, 5-10 breaths.
We are now ready to move into the Sirsasana preparatory postures.